Higher Survival Rate for Patients via Helicopter Compared to Ground Transport
April 18, 2012

Higher Survival Rate For Patients Via Helicopter Compared To Ground Transport

Connie K. Ho for RedOrbit.com

Recent studies by both John Hopkins University and the University of Maryland have found that patients who travel via helicopter have a higher survival rate compared to traveling via ground transport.

Both studies were based around the idea of trauma. Trauma is the top cause of death among young people in the world, with more than 50 million people injured per year and 169,000 dying as a result of a sustained injury. The most seriously injured, in situations like car crashes or other traumatic events, are airlifted. However, a trip could cost thousands of dollars for insurance companies and consumers.

"We know helicopter trips are costly and carry some risks, but this research shows they do save lives," commented study senior author Adil Haider, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of surgery, anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a prepared statement. "It also tells us that we need to sharpen our ability to identify trauma patients who need the helicopter most to ensure that we deploy the helicopter for people who really will benefit from its use."

The Johns Hopkins research team looked at records from more than 223,000 patients from the 2007-2009 National Trauma Data Bank. Researchers compared the data of 161,500 patients who traveled by ground transport to 62,000 who traveled by helicopter. The end analysis was that injured patients are 16 percent more likely to survive if they are carried to hospitals by helicopters. Based on the findings, Haider believes that more research should be done to develop better guideline on who “flies” to assist paramedics and emergency responders in their decision making process.

"In some cases, helicopters don't help, but just increase the risk because of the flight and add costs," remarked Haider, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Surgery Trials and Outcomes Research, in the statement. "We need a better way to make sure this scarce and valuable resource is used appropriately."

Along with Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland presented similar research results regarding the effectiveness of flying patients to the hospital and the higher chance of survival after trauma.

"We looked at the sickest patients with the most severe injuries and applied sophisticated statistical analyses to the largest aggregation of trauma data in the world," noted the study's principal investigator, Samuel M. Galvagno Jr., D.O., Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Anesthesiology, Divisions of Trauma Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine in a statement. "We were careful at every step to balance all the potential other factors that could explain any benefit of the helicopter. After all that, the survival advantage of helicopters remained," says Galvagno.

Researchers at the University of Maryland believe that this study gives insight into the practices of modern trauma medicine. Galvagno developed a comparison of helicopter and ground transport. He and his team also studied patients who had certain criteria in the 2007-2009 American College of Surgeons National Trauma Bank.

"Dr. Galvagno's research demonstrates how statistics and technology can be used to help researchers mine huge databases for useful information to help determine best care for patients and appropriate utilization of limited health care funds," commented E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president for medical affairs, University of Maryland; the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor; and dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a prepared statement.  "Advances in the emerging science of comparative effectiveness, coupled with the expertise of physician researchers who have direct patient care experience, will deliver data that clinicians, policy-makers and ultimately the public can use to make informed decisions."

The study is published in the April 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.